Lee Alexander McQueen, is one of the most respected and well-known fashion designers in the world. McQueen was born in London to a British mother and Scottish father (his heritage would later be a major influence in his work). He grew up working class and left school with only one qualification in art. McQueen then went on to complete a tailoring course which resulted in an apprenticeship with respected tailors, Anderson & Sheppard on Savile Row. With a little bit of help from his peers, as well as his extreme talent, McQueen landed a prestigious spot on an MA fashion course at the famed Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
After he graduated McQueen's career rocketed with his runway collections renowned for their controversial nature and he was quickly given the nickname, "the hooligan of English fashion." Above all McQueen has been credited with bringing drama to the otherwise serious tone of the fashion catwalk. His use of technology and innovation added a different kind of twist, with McQueen applauded for changing the perspective of an entire industry.
Before his death, McQueen attracted a whole host of celebrities such as Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker and David Bowie to name but a few. So, to celebrate the life of one of the most passionate and talented fashion designers to have ever graced this earth, here are 25 of the most iconic pieces from Alexander McQueen.
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20 wild Beauty
Alexander McQueen once described himself as a "romantic schizophrenic" which certainly seems apt when you look at his work. For instance, McQueen's creativity was often expressed through technical wizardry as well as dramatic intensity which can both be seen in the Victoria and Albert exhibition, Savage Beauty in 2011.
The exhibition featured clothing created by McQueen as well as a number of accessories that were created for his fashion and runway shows. One of the items involved in the exhibition included the above picture which wowed audiences worldwide due to its Victorian Gothic theme and "Romantic Exoticism."
19 Haute Couture
McQueen was mostly known for his daring and innovative design, however, he also knew how to play by the rules. Haute Couture, which is French for "high sewing", has become somewhat synonymous with the fashion industry over the years and is another word for high-end fashion.
In fact, it is McQueen who once dominated the upper levels of Haute Couture, especially with regards to his later work. For instance, McQueen's clam dress, which was worn by model Erin O'Connor during his VOSS show, is a definite highlight of McQueen's eye for high-end fashion.
18 Bird's Nest Headdress
McQueen's bird's nest headdress is one of the most famous headpieces in the Alexander McQueen collection and certainly represents his eye for intensity and drama. In fact, McQueen was once quoted as saying, "Birds in flight fascinate me... I’m inspired by a feather but also its color, its graphics, its weightlessness and its engineering. It’s so elaborate. In fact, I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women."
Therefore it is no surprise to see a variety of feathered creatures involved in his work. The headdress was said to symbolise the circle of life and was filled with seven duck eggs cast from silver and Swarovski gemstones.
Shaun Leane was not only a collaborator of McQueen's but also a good friend. The Yashmak was part of a collection of jewelry that was designed by Leane for Alexander McQueen. It was McQueen who had originally asked Leane to create something for him which led to a number of other pieces.
The Yashmak, which is one of the most spectacular pieces, is several aluminum plates cast from molds. The plates are also linked by chains and inset at the center with red, Cabochon Swarovski crystals. The collection initially explored the clashing of Middle Eastern and Western cultures, with the Yashmak, acting as a symbol of Middle Eastern dress.
16 The Horn Of Plenty
In 2009, Alexander McQueen presented a collection in stark contrast to what was going on around him at the time. At the time, the catwalk was filled to the brim with sensible clothes for middle-aged women, yet McQueen was somewhat on a different level. The clothes he displayed were fashion parodies of Chanel tweed suits and Christian Dior and revisited a number of showstoppers from his own previous work and wardrobe.
However, although they wowed some spectators, others were quick to criticise and claimed that the large red lips and boxy clothing were bordering on misogynistic. Whatever the case, McQueen certainly got people talking.
15 Oyster Dress
Alexander McQueen often looked to water for inspiration, a fact that can be seen in McQueen's "Oyster gown" in 2003. The dress, which represented "fragile feminity", was created from a corset of boned tulle and shredded chiffon in order to replicate an oyster shell. The collection as a whole was based on a shipwreck that had found itself in the Amazon. Above all, the show resembled modern art rather than a fashion collection, which was something McQueen did frequently.
Alexander McQueen’s official website describes the dress as a "fragile and feminine collection inspired by the journey of a woman, ship-wrecked on an island where she evolves from pirate to conquistador and finally Amazonian goddess."
14 Caught In The Light
In 2004, McQueen unveiled his Spring Ready-to-wear collection which involved both dancers and models. Again, much of the work was inspired by water, with muscular sailors and fishtails making up the majority of the collection. In addition, the majority of the gowns were also water inspired, with spangled corsets and aqua feathered skirts wowing audiences who had never seen anything quite like it before.
By then, McQueen had really cemented himself as one of the most exciting fashion designers of the time, with the industry fully aware that they had stumbled upon something and somebody who was life-changing.
13 Plato's Atlantis
McQueen's last ever runway before his death was highly acclaimed especially when it was apparent that he had returned to his earlier inspirations. The theme of nature, as well as water, ran through the entire collection with McQueen mixing Darwin's nineteenth-century theory of evolution with twenty-first-century questions regarding global warming.
For McQueen, it was pure fantasy, with Greek philosopher, Plato, and his work on Atlantis inspiring McQueen's work massively. The runway featured several shapes and fabrics that mimicked the creatures of the ocean with McQueen also using a number of colors that represented life beneath the mysterious ocean.
12 British Bloom
Alexander McQueen was born in Lewisham, London in 1969. Although his father was Scottish, which featured heavily in his work, London was also a huge inspiration to the late fashion designer. In fact, McQueen was such a big fan of his birth city that he once stated, "London's where I was brought up, it's where my heart is and where I get my inspiration."
After McQueen's death, creative director Sarah Burton continued to draw on British heritage and stayed true to the Alexander McQueen brand. However, although she may have remained loyal to McQueen's legacy, Burton's work is still representative of herself, which was seen spectacularly in her debut collection.
11 Coiled Corset
The coiled corset has an interesting history and was one of the first pieces that jeweler and longtime friend, Shaun Leane, made for McQueen. In fact, lots of hard work went into the piece, with Leane recently explaining, "I had to explore technology and I had to explore new forms of how to make things like electroforming. I'd never worked with electroforming even though it's a very old process."
The corset is made from 97 handcrafted aluminum coils with Leane only able to make eight coils a day due to the time it took to make them. Furthermore, it took a whopping 15 minutes to get the corset onto model Laura Morgan, as well as a further 15 minutes to get the thing off.
10 Pretty As A Peacock
Alexander McQueen loves birds, with the feathered friends serving as inspiration throughout his work. For McQueen, the idea of flight was fascinating, therefore he often included this theme in his shows. The rainbow dress, in particular, was a nod to McQueen's obsession with birds, and the dress immediately went down in history as an iconic piece of fashion.
In fact, the dress was so popular that it was recreated a few years later when a superfan decided to make a similar dress. However, this time the dress was made out of 50,000 gummy bears which also weighed a hefty 220 lbs.
9 Oscar Wilde Inspired
Alexander McQueen found as much joy in designing men's clothes as he did female, a fact that can be seen throughout his work. In fact, writer and famed extraordinaire, Oscar Wilde, was a major influence on the designer, and was often referred to or featured in his collections.
After McQueen's death, the brand stayed loyal to the Wilde obsession and produced a number of Wilde inspired garments for the McQueen menswear collection in 2017. The collection, which showcased several long jackets, double-breasted overcoats, and guardsman’s red capes and coats with gold buttons, paid homage to Wilde who famously said, "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."
8 Stripes In Winter
Alexander McQueen not only had an eye for fashion but he also had an eye for drama. In fact, his daring creations wowed audiences from the very beginning, especially his use of dark colors and even darker themes. In 2009, McQueen decided to let people know his thoughts on couture, especially the things he hated about the industry.
The collection was titled, "The Horn of Plenty" and made references to greed and excess. The show was an immediate success and challenged the fashion industry’s perceptions of beauty. Critics were also pleased, with one particular reviewer, stating, "THAT was the kind of show that puts your faith back in fashion."
7 Union Jacket
What happens when you put together an iconic British fashion designer and an even more iconic and legendary British pop star? History of course. In 1996, David Bowie was not only a musical powerhouse but he was also somewhat of a fashion guru. McQueen being McQueen understood the hold Bowie had on the fashion industry and decided to get involved by personally designing Bowie a Union Jack frock coat.
At the time McQueen was still relatively unknown, however, Bowie was extremely impressed and decided to wear it on the cover of his then-upcoming album, Earthling. And as they say...the rest is history.
6 Emily Blunt
Celebrities far and wide are big fans of Alexander McQueen, although McQueen himself was often a little reluctant to let the Hollywood elite wear his stuff. For instance, when asked about globally expanding his brand, McQueen stated, "Do I really want to see Paris Hilton carrying a McQueen bag?"
However, some A-listers were allowed to showcase the famous fashion name. Emily Blunt looked positively beautiful while attending her own movie premiere for The Girl on the Train. The dress, which comes from McQueen's 2017 Spring collection, is a floor-length, long-sleeve gown covered in sequins. Marvelous.
5 Lady Gaga
Before his untimely passing, Lady Gaga acted as a somewhat muse for McQueen, with the pop star and the fashioner designer striking up a close friendship. In fact, the two were so close that Gaga premiered her smash hit, "Bad Romance" at his spring 2010 show and turned up at the MTV awards later that year dressed head to tow in McQueen material.
Sadly, the MTV awards occurred not long after his death, with Gaga arriving in the regal McQueen design as a tribute to her friend. However, as we all know, Gaga is not one to do things quietly, and she was later seen changing into the now-infamous meat dress (not by McQueen).
4 Pretty In Pink
In 2018, Sarah Burton proved why she was the perfect choice to take over the role of creative director at Alexander McQueen by producing yet another spectacular collection. Burton played with the current mood with regards to female empowerment and made sure to represent women in their battles, pleasures, and triumphs.
Furthermore, Burton also touched on the theme of the natural world, something McQueen often displayed in his work. In fact, Burton recently claimed that her starting point for the collection was to think about, "butterflies and bugs, and paradise found rather than lost" a comment that wouldn't sound so out of place if said from McQueen himself.
3 Pantheon As Lecum
In 2004, McQueen displayed one of his most theatrical presentations with regards to the runway with the show named, "Pantheon as Lecum." In fact, McQueen had earlier decided to focus more on the design rather than the dramatic aspects of the show, however, the concept was still as aesthetically pleasing as ever.
The finale included the opening chords of Kate Bush's "Baboushka" which accompanied several models dressed similarly to the flickering of lights. The final creation looked as if it belonged in the future rather than in the hands of a London based fashion designer, with audiences worldwide feeling as if they had just entered a time machine.
2 Kate Middleton
Probably the most famous outfit on the list, if not the entire world, Kate Middleton's wedding dress will most certainly go down in history as one of the most beautiful bridal gowns to have ever been created. Middleton has been a longtime fan of McQueen's since the very beginning and is often spotted donning a number of his creations.
However, topping the list is Middleton's exquisite wedding dress which she wore in 2011 when she married Prince William. The stunning gown was designed by Sarah Burton, who became the creative director for Alexander McQueen after his death.
1 Butterfly Headdress
Throughout his life, Alexander McQueen worked with a variety of designers which enabled him to truly realize his creative ambitions. McQueen often worked with longstanding collaborator and London-based designer Philip Treacy. The match usually resulted in a number of dark and demanding headpieces which have now gone on to become iconic.
The butterfly headdress is a fine example, with Treacy truly embodying the spirit of McQueen as a fashion designer and as a brand. Speaking of McQueen, Treacy recently claimed, "There was a fearlessness in him, I could make the strongest hats and it was fine, his shows could take it, that proportion, extremity, modernity."
References: InStyle, Vogue, Pinterest, MarieClaire
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